US President Barack Obama has said that he is been troubled by Turkey’s repression of the press and democratic debate under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In a news conference at the end of the Nuclear Security Summit on Friday, Obama was asked whether he thought Erdoğan was an authoritarian. The question came after Erdoğan’s bodyguards scuffled with reporters and protesters outside a DC think tank Thursday and amid a crackdown on journalists in Turkey.
“There are some trends in Turkey that I’ve been troubled with” Obama replied.
“I’m a strong believer in the freedom of the press. I’m a strong believer in the freedom of religion. I’m a strong believer in rule of law and democracy” Obama said. “There is no doubt that President Erdoğan has repeatedly been elected through a democratic process. But I think, the approach that they’ve [Erdoğan] been taking towards the press is one that could lead Turkey down a path that is very troubling.”
“We are going to continue to advise them [Erdoğan]” he continued, “And I’ve reminded President Erdoğan that he came into office, with a promise of democracy. Turkey has historically been a country in which, deep Islamic faith has lived side by side with modernity and increasing openness. And that’ the legacy he should pursue, rather than repression of information and shutting down democratic debate.”
Obama’s criticism comes as Turkey’s highest-circulation daily was seized in a government led police operation on March 4, when an İstanbul court appointed trustees — Sezai Şengönül, Tahsin Kaplan and Metin İlhan — to take over the management of the Feza Media Group the Zaman daily, as well as the Today’s Zaman daily and the Cihan news agency.
Also Cumhuriyet newspaper Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and its Ankara representative Erdem Gül are the latest victims of the government’s clampdown on critical media. They were released following a ruling by the Constitutional Court after remaining in jail for three months.